Finding an advocate…

A part of the separations process for every veteran is the medical evaluation that all veterans go through in order to determine whether or not they rate disability benefits.  It can be a confusion and overwhelming process even if you are healthy and don’t have any lagging medical problems, but it can get downright impenetrable if you have issues or have service-related disabilities.

It is not because the VA is an uncaring monolithic government agency – they are really doing their best to help out the hundreds of thousands of veterans who need their help.  They are doing the best that they can, but despite the ongoing modernization of various systems within the VA and a decent budget, they are simply buried by the sheer volume of veterans who are either already in the system or are now joining it.  It is likely to get worse in the near term, too, as the services begin the post-war drawdown that has been announced by the administration.

That is all well and good for the VA, but what about the individual veteran?  Is he or she on his or her own to try to navigate the bureaucracy?  No.  Fortunately there are some great organizations out there to help you, the veteran, ensure that you receive the benefits you are entitled to.  In addition, they will act as your adviser and advocate as you wend your way through the benefits claims process.

Several months ago I wrote a post about the TAP/TAMP process (, and in that post I wrote about the guy who reviewed my medical record.  Although I didn’t really understand the significance of meeting him at the TAP/TAMP course now that I have been working my way through the process for several months I get it.  Alan represented the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), which is a nonprofit organization that exists solely to help out veterans –  and not just those with a disability, but any vets out there who are in need of assistance.  At the TAP course Alan explained this all to me, but it was such a blizzard of information over those five days that I really didn’t pay as close attention as I should have.  I did listen to him when he asked me to sign up for the DAV as my advocate because it allowed him to review and prescreen my medical record before I was evaluated by the VA.

So what is the DAV?  Here is a blurb from their website (

The 1.2 million-member Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is a non-profit 501(c)(4) charity dedicated to building better lives for America’s disabled veterans and their families.

The DAV was founded in 1920 by disabled veterans returning from World War I to represent their unique interests. In 1932, the DAV was congressionally chartered as the official voice of the nation’s wartime disabled veterans.

In addition to assisting veterans with myriad issues that they face after they leave the service they are an advocate for people like me who are being evaluated by the VA for possible medical disability benefits.  This is a great help because they have a lot of people with a lot of experience in dealing with the ins and out of the process, and they will go to bat for you in case you run into snags or are given a disability rating that does not reflect your actual physical condition.  They make the confusing process manageable and will help you through it, which is a great relief to those who have absolutely no idea what to do as they transition (like me!).

At any rate, Alan prescreened my record and in doing so set me up for a smooth evaluation process when I finally did receive my VA medical exams several months later.  He identified problems and issues that I had forgotten about but were relevant in the claims process because they could easily manifest themselves later in life, and if they are not identified in the VA physical then I would be ineligible for VA medical coverage to deal with them.

They also help with all kinds of other things that are veteran related; things like job placement assistance, counseling, and representing your interests to Congress.  The DAV is there for you, so when you go through TAP/TAMP, make sure to track the representative of the organization down.  He or she will gladly help you through the process, and you will be amazed at how much you will come to rely upon them to make it through.


Lessons learned:

1.  There are a lot of organizations out there that will help you with veterans issues and the transition to civilian life.  I am working with the DAV, but the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion are also great organizations that can help you out.  There are literally dozens more.  They all have slightly different charters, so do some research and see which one works best for you.  Even better, join as many as you can- they are not competing with each other and they all want to help.

2.  Even if you are certain that you will have no disability rating it is still important to affiliate with a veterans advocacy group.  There are a lot of benefits that are outside the medical realm that they can help with, and if nothing else they are a great bunch of people you can rely on if you need advice or just somebody to talk to.